The Only Easy Day is Yesterday

Posted: September 10, 2010 in Pace and Racing
Tags: , , , , ,

So you want to be a marathoner?

Doesn’t sound too difficult right?

I mean, there are more people running marathons in the United States today than ever before. By the time the final marathons were completed in 2009, 468,000 runners completed the 26.2 mile distance.  That is 43,000 more finishers than in all of 2008.  9.9% growth in a single year.

Back in 2000 there were only 299,000 finishers at marathons in the US.  That is pretty incredible growth in less than a decade.

It seems like everyone is doing it these days.  How hard could it really be? 

For me, the marathon itself is not the truly difficult part.  It is the training for race day where the true tests come.  The training period is where strength, stamina, character and mental toughness are developed.

Race day is pageantry, excitement and of course time for celebration.

After all, a marathon is just a 10K with a 20-mile warm-up.

Don’t believe me?  Well let’s take a look at Thursday’s workout.

Hill Repeats, 10 Repetitions, Total distance 10 miles.  The same hill repeats we had been building up to 10 repetitions for the last six weeks.  Hop out of bed, let the dog out, knock out our run, and be back home in 75 or 80 minutes max.  Piece of cake.

Well, that is why our sport is such a great one.  Because the only easy day is yesterday.

It had appeared that tropical storm Hermine had moved through the Austin area for good overnight.  That is what all the weather forecasts had said anyway.  I thought to be on the safe side I should bring my running hat with me on Thursday morning, just in case there was a stray shower hanging around.

Flooding at the shallow end of Barton Springs Pool

As I stretched my calves against the garage door, the first raindrops started to hit me.  Good call I thought on the running hat.  As I waited for my GPS to locate its signal, the rain started falling harder.

I saw 00:00:00 on my watch, which indicated we were ready to roll.  I took off up the hill away from our house to run my warm-up of 1.5 miles before we made it over to the hill to get started.

By the time I passed the fourth house on the left, all hell had broken loose from the sky.  Torrential downpour that had me soaked from head to toe only: 30 seconds into my run.  I could already feel the water squishing in my shoes.

No problem I thought.  We’ve run a full marathon in the rain before.  I’ve got this.

As I started to wind my way through the neighborhood I approached the entrance to the trail system behind our home.  I knew that there would be some erosion due to the flooding from Hermine, but I was hoping that the trail would be in decent shape.  We had run the identical hill for the last 5 weeks and recorded all of our workouts, building from 6 repeats to 7 to 8 to 9 and finally 10 last week.  Our goal now was to continue to run 10 repeats up the .40 mile hill, only at a faster pace each week for the next 5 weeks.

The trail was a mess.  Lots of loose areas, standing water, puddles and ruts.  In the early morning darkness, I couldn’t see very well.  But having run this trail more than 600 times, I knew exactly where the problem areas usually were after a storm.

I reached the bottom of the hill after my warm-up, punched the lap timer on my GPS and started up the hill at 5K effort.  My first four strides went through 3 inches of standing water, running down into my shoes.

No problem I thought.  We’ll find a dry launching point on our next repeat.  I’ve got this.

I made my way up the hill a little less than ¼ of the way to the top and I saw a large, dark shadow about 5 feet tall in the middle of the trail.  It had to be a fallen limb from the trees on the left.  I drifted to the right side of the trail and was just able to sneak past without breaking stride, less than a foot from the bushes on the right.

No problem I thought.  I’ll just drag that out of the way on my way back down.  I’ve got this.

I took 20 more strides and hit some large ruts on the path.  These were “ankle-twisters” if there ever were any.  Very bad news for a runner, especially in the dark.  I fought my way over the ruts to an area that was a bit smoother on the left.  Just a couple of missteps, but I was holding my pace.

No problem I thought.  I’ll look for a smooth patch on my next repeat.  I’ve got this.

As I made it to the ¾ point of the hill I heard rushing water up ahead over the Gin Blossoms that were playing on my iPod.  I started to let off the gas a bit and I saw it.  There was a veritable waterfall coming down from the top of the dam on the left of the trail, washing more than 6 inches of water directly across the trail in front of me.  It was moving swiftly and was more than 2 feet wide.

Somebody must be trying to tell me something.  At that point, I hung my head, turned around and headed back down the hill ever so carefully.

Time to go home right?  Not a chance.

I chuckled to myself a bit, thought about all of the different things that our boy Dom had gone through from treatment to treatment, surgery to procedure and thanked him for the lesson that the only direction to keep moving is forward.  There has to be another hill around her somewhere right?

Flood Waters at Brushy Creek

So I backtracked up the trail, cut through a few areas I knew and made my way back to the bottom of the hill from Wednesday’s “Boston” Course.  This is a neighborhood adjacent to ours that features a steep hill taking you from the pool area at Water’s Edge up to Avery Ranch Road.  I used this area preparing for the uphill and downhill nature of the Boston Marathon course last winter.

The distance of the hill is a bit shorter, only .35 miles compared to the .40 miles we typically run our repeats on.  But the slope is much steeper and covers more than 60 feet of elevation change.

I would not be able to run the entire hill as the turnaround would be at an intersection.  I did not want to introduce morning commuters with their cups of coffee in one hand, iPhones in the other to my morning “obstacle course”.  I decided to run .30 miles up to the top of the hill, just short of the entrance to the development. 

It had already taken me more than 3.5 miles to get to the bottom of this hill.  But if my math was correct, we could still run our 10 repeats and bring our run in right at 10 miles.  Just as we had planned.

I turned my hat around backwards as the rain had finally stopped and took off up the hill.

Repeat after repeat up and down we went.  Legs aching, lungs burning, arms pumping, feet squishing.  Up and down, up and down, up and down until we reached our 10th repeat.

1:48, 1:49, 1:48, 1:51, 1:54, 1:53, 1:54, 1:56, 1:55, 1:54.

1:50 = 6:28/mile pace climbing up the equivalent of a six story building.

Not bad.

I made my way home with a final mile at 7:24 pace.  :13 faster than we will need to average at the Austin Marathon to re-qualify for Boston this spring.

There was no finish clock in the driveway, no family members or friends there to greet me, no medal to be won or even a high-five.  Hell, my paper had not even been delivered yet.

But what was there waiting for me when I returned was better. 


Like most challenges in life I don’t think that marathoning builds character as much as it reveals it.

I’m sure that if Dom was looking in on me Thursday morning, he was pretty damn proud of me, and that’s better than any finisher’s medal.

Hill Repeat Thursday - Mission Accomplished

  1. Drew says:

    Here I am halfway into training for my first marathon and I’d never thought of it this way. I don’t know if I’ll be celebrating or not on race day. But even if I don’t BQ I know I won’t regret the time and effort needed to prepare for trying.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Drew – Congratulations on your first Marathon! Absolutely nothing like the first one, I wish you well with your training and hope that you have a great reace day. Best from Austin, J

  2. Jodi Higgins says:

    Way to go Joe! You truly are a rock star! You really battled out there yesterday. I got really lucky with the cool temperatures and weather yesterday for my hill repeats!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Jodi! Sounds like you had a great day of repeats on Thursday. Congratulations, you are really crushing the training right now. Can’t wait to hear how that next half goes. Have a great pace run tomorrow!

  3. Damn man! Way to rock through the weather like the mailman (neither sleet, nor snow…). The starting line is actually the finish line. Training is the real starting line. By the time we toe up to begin the race, we have to have run the race in every training run on our schedule. Each step in training serves a purpose in the race. It’s not the steps we run during the race that brings us to the finish line, it’s all those steps during the training runs, alone, with no medal, no race bid, and no cheering, that bring us to the finish line.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi AJ! It was definitely “interesting” out there on Thursday – but that is the name of the game, pushing through the tough so that the next time you stare it down it isn’t so intimidating. I think it becomes all about self-confidence after awhile when it comes to racing. If you have to train through some storms to get there, that is just part of the journey.

      Best to you and R! Hope you guys have a great weekend.

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